Nowadays coffee is one of the most traded agricultural commodities, it is also one of the oldest. It seems the popularity of coffee grows every day. And it’s been long since coffee was just a beverage to drink with your meal… or drink instead of a meal. In the modern world coffee has become an art, a ritual, a meditation.
It is said that only 30% of coffee drinkers have a thorough understanding of coffee, however, coffee culture is spreading, leading to more and more people being curious about coffee types, understanding coffee flavors and preferring something that is beyond what mass market have for us.
So, what is there in the market that could draw our attention after we abandon ‘regular’ coffee? Organic and Specialty coffee comes to our mind instantly. Those are well-known and well-marketed types, but what lies behind these words?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture sets standards for ‘organic’ labeling. According to the standards, coffee producers cannot use synthetic substances such as most pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. By regulation, it should be like this no less than 3 years prior to the harvest that's labeled as organic. If you see the ‘organic’ label, you can be sure that at least 95% of beans are grown under organic conditions.
Practically it means that farmers use only organic fertilizers from coffee pulp, chicken manure, or compost. Without chemicals water, air and soil become cleaner, not to mention cleaner beans. Growing conditions are also natural. It means the land isn’t clear cut, leaving trees planted in rows in open sunlight. On the contrary, you would easily mistake an organic farm with just another stand of forest, because coffee trees grow under a partial canopy of shade trees, providing a natural habitat for wild plants and animals. Birds and lizards eat harmful insects being natural pesticides and natural mulch from the tree canopies replaces commercial fertilizers.
As we can see, organic coffee beans are grown in the most natural way one can imagine. But what do we have from it? Thriving wildlife, soils that can better handle unusual weather patterns (result of climate change) and healthier farmers and communities living near the coffee farms because there are no chemical residues that mix in the air and the water resources. Even these would be enough, but organic coffee is healthier (because, as we remember, it is produced without the potentially harmful and lethal chemicals), it is also richer in healthful antioxidants, which are said to help fight aging, promote weight loss and prevent the risk of developing cancer, heart disease, liver problems, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
By the way, organic coffee is only about 3% of the total coffee production.
Organic coffee seems to be perfect enough, but let’s move to the Specialty.
Specialty coffee is very up to its name. It is special in everything. One can even call it perfect. And it says something because coffee goes through different actors, from farmers to brewers, on its way to the final consumer, and these actors should be equally skilled.
It all starts with growing conditions. The soil chemistry, climate and cultivar are among the most important. Should you plant your trees in the wrong altitude or in a wrong climate and the potential for quality is destroyed. That is why, for example, volcanic soil contributes to coffee quality as it is rich and nutritious. On the other hand, high altitude is almost always mentioned when talking about Specialty Coffee because in these unfriendly conditions coffee trees are fighting for survival thus giving all the juices to berries.
Then comes picking and Specialty Coffee is always hand-picked because only berries at the peak of ripeness can bring us the best taste. Processing plays a great role because it is too easy to spoil beans at this stage. And the time between harvest and the beginning of processing is also very important and can impact the final taste significantly.
Some of the processes of which we never think about are storing between other preparations and the following shipping. Everything plays its role from temperature to storage containers. Finally, coffee beans arrive at roasteries, the place where their potential is either buried by an amateur hand or revealed by the master roasting. Though we should always remember that a skilled barista is the one who brews the beverage, uncovering all the potential saved and cultivated at previous stages. Somewhere in between someone does grinding - not too coarse, not too fine, just an ideal.
So, Specialty Coffee is a coffee grown, processed and brewed in no other way than the right one. Buying this coffee you can be sure that all the people in the supply chain did their best to save and reveal the coffee's potential, taste and aroma.
There are even people who can professionally assess if everything was as excellent as you would expect. Q-graders, so-called coffee sommeliers, do cupping and during this procedure are tasting and testing coffee. Coffee beans are checked for black, sour and broken beans. While for brewed coffee such attributes as acidity, body, flavor and aroma are scored. Only coffee with a score above 80 (on a scale of 100) can be classified as Specialty.
Definitely, Organic and Specialty coffee say for themselves. Organic coffee is truly organic and Specialty coffee is special in every way you can imagine. Next time you’re shopping for coffee and see the Organic/Specialty badge you will know what story stands behind this bag of coffee.